No team in baseball, entering Wednesday’s action, had swung at pitches more frequently than the Phillies. Their 49.2 percent swing rate was the highest in baseball, but Pete Mackanin was angered Tuesday night because his team did not swing.
“Too many called third strikes with men in scoring position,” the manager said after a 2-1 loss to Miami. “That’s a pet peeve of mine. We’re going to address that.”
He referred to Peter Bourjos, who took a called strike three with the bases loaded in the seventh inning, and Tommy Joseph, who struck out looking with a runner on third base to end the sixth.
But there are certain realities about a younger roster in the majors, and a lack of plate discipline is one. The Phillies swing when they should not. They pause when they should swing.
The Phillies lugged a .292 on-base percentage into the game. That was the worst in baseball. It would be the lowest mark for a Phillies team since the war-torn 1942 Phillies went 42-109 with a .289 on-base percentage.
“That’s our goal right now: Maintain our plate discipline instead of coming out of it,” Mackanin said. “Grind out at-bats. Two strikes, you have to put the ball in play, especially with runners in scoring position. Things like that.”
Discipline is not easily taught, especially to a young lineup of free swingers against some of the game’s best pitchers. The Phillies, according to FanGraphs, have swung at 32.3 percent of pitches they’ve seen outside the zone. That is the fourth-highest rate in baseball. They have swung at 69.3 percent of pitches in the zone, the highest rate among all teams.
“It’s hard,” Mackanin said. “The game’s hard. I think sometimes players try to be the perfect hitter. They’ll try to work the count like everybody wants to see. They want you to work the count and make the pitcher throw strikes and get a good look at him. I get that. But sometimes, certain hitters aren’t like that. Certain hitters have to jump on something early. That makes them a better hitter.
“It’s a tough place to learn plate discipline. You get into that mode where you’re trying to survive and trying to get out of that slump. So you think too much instead of just reacting to the ball and hitting the ball where it’s pitched.”
So it is understandable why the Phillies have emphasized that a prospect “control the strike zone” before being promoted. Nick Williams is one example. He will play for the Phillies this season, but the front office wants to see him trim his strikeouts and improve his walk rate. That is one reason J.P. Crawford, the model of plate discipline in the minors, has generated so much excitement within the organization.
Joseph, in a way, embodies the current Phillies. He shows flashes of great power, a skill so valuable in the modern game. He is tied for the second on the team in homers and did not join the roster until May 13.
But that comes without a command of the strike zone. Entering Wednesday, he had struck out 43 times with seven walks. And when he took the called third strike in the sixth inning, it perturbed Mackanin.
“I didn’t like it,” he said. “But I have to like him. I think he’s going to improve as we go along.”
Aaron Altherr (left wrist surgery) will join double-A Reading on Thursday to continue his rehab. He must be activated from the disabled list by next Thursday. … Jerad Eickhoff will pitch in Thursday’s series finale against Tom Koehler, who has a 1.93 ERA in two starts against the Phillies this season.